A Cursory Examination of Colonial Nigeria

Queen Elizabeths in Nigeria

Like most other foreign countries that had contact with pre-colonial Nigeria, Britain also came to Nigeria for a trade-oriented purpose. This changed with time. While the exact period when the British came in contact with pre-colonial Nigeria might be sketchy, it is safe to say the 19th century is recognised. This is so as the British government aided in stopping the slave trade in 1801.

More prominent events started in the mid 19th century. There is the annexation of Lagos in 1861 and the formal annexation in 1865. Another point to note is the creation of the United African Company in 1879 by Sir George Goldie. The company’s name was changed to National African Company in 1881. In 1885, the British government was internationally recognised to have an influence in West African countries. In 1886, the National African Company was chartered and had its name changed to Royal Niger Company which was under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. The charter of the Royal Niger Company, on the 31st of December 1899, was revoked by the British government. Thus, on the 1st of January 1900, the Royal Niger Company’s territory was fully controlled by the British Government. £865.000 was paid as compensation to the company.

On the 1st of January 1900 also, the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate was created. In 1906, the Colony of Lagos was joined with the Southern Protectorate. 8 years later, the then Governor-general, Sir (later Lord) Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorate. The result being the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. This began the constitutional and political development in Nigeria.

During the British Rule, Nigeria experienced 4 constitutions. The Clifford constitution of 1922, which brought forth the first elective principles in Nigeria (and West Africa). The Richard Constitution of 1946, which was on the laid outline made by Sir Bernard Bourdillon, the governor of Nigeria for the years 1935 to 1946. In 1939, Sir Bernard Bourdillon divided Nigeria into 3 provinces; the Western, Eastern and Northern Province. In 1947, these provinces became regions under Sir Richard and a council was created for each region.

In 1951, another constitution was made; The MacPherson constitution of 1951. The MacPherson constitution made changes to Nigeria’s political history. Changes, which include the inclusion of Nigerians at the grassroots in the Constitution-making process, being the majority in the Federal and Regional Executive Council and having the motion for self-government moved in the House.

The last constitution during the British indirect rule of Nigeria is the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954. This constitution made changes in the titles of political officers. Residual powers were given to the House of Representatives. A bicameral legislature was provided for the northern and Western region while the Federal and Eastern region had a unicameral legislature. The Lyttleton Constitution established a Supreme Court for the country and Lagos became a Federal Territory.

The British Rule in Nigeria ended officially in 1963 when Nigeria became a Republic. For the time the British government ruled, the country experienced changes; positive changes and negative changes. For all the changes experienced, it suffices to say that the rule was part of what made Nigeria as it is presently.


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